2017 Internship Fellow Spotlight: Tatyana Marugg at the Croatian Mediation Center

HRI Summer 2017 Internship Fellow, Tatyana Marugg, tell us about her internship experience at the Croatian Mediation Center, in Zagreb, Croatia

View from the window of the mediation center in Zagreb

When I arrived in Zagreb, Croatia at the beginning of the summer to work for the Mediation Center, I simply had no idea what to expect.  I knew that Croatian history, particularly the War for Independence and the Balkan War, must have shaped the culture and the attitudes of the people here.  Upon our introduction to Croatian mediation, we learned that this was in fact the case.  People here are still learning to accept the fact that mediation and alternative non-violent dispute resolution are valid ways to approach their conflicts.  Many people still have a negative reaction to the suggestion of mediation because it fundamentally translates to “peace” in Croatia.  As a result, people often say “Why would I want to make peace with my enemies?” This means that introducing mediation to the Croatian people also means changing the way they think about the conflicts in their lives.

In some ways it is surprising that there is push-back against mediation in Croatia, especially considering that the judicial process can be remarkably slow, with most cases taking at least five years to reach a decision, and that most decisions are ultimately appealed and stretch on for even longer.  Moreover, there is lingering distrust of the judicial system that should, theoretically, make people more willing to sit down and mediate with the opposing party to come to a mutually beneficial solution.

While working with the Croatian Mediation Association, we had the unique opportunity to sit in on a Croatian mediation that was being conducted in English.  This lengthy mediation provided insight into some of the similarities and differences between mediation in American and in Croatia.  First, in America, it is much more common for parties to meet with the mediator separately to try to reach a conclusion, whereas in Croatia, although both parties did meet with the mediator prior to coming together, they spent several sessions working together in the same room to try to develop a mutually beneficial solution.  This strategy allowed for the parties to get a better grasp of each other’s needs and motivations than they would have if they had been kept in separate rooms throughout the day.  In other ways, the conflict resolution process in this case was similar to cases like it in the United States because it fundamentally came down to the amount of money that one party felt they were entitled to and the amount that the other party was willing to give them.  Although there were emotions, assumptions, and judgments made by both sides, they knew that both would be benefited by coming to a conclusion without having to wait for the court process to play out.

While interning for the Mediation Center we also had the opportunity to meet a variety of local people involved in law, the judicial system, and mediation.  As a law student, it was particularly interesting to meet students involved with the legal clinic in Zagreb, which allows law students to get more practical legal experience.  Although similar in some ways to the clinical program at Uconn Law, law students in America have the added benefit of being able to actually represent clients in court.  Still, law students in Croatia are committed to making the most of their clinical opportunities to further their skills and practical education.

One of the work stations in the office at the mediation center.

We also had the opportunity to meet with several Croatian lawyers throughout the month, who not only enlightened us about some of the differences between law in American and Croatia, but also talked more about the growth and development of mediation in the country.  All of the lawyers that we spoke with were optimistic about the future of mediation in Croatia, although they all acknowledged that even some attorneys still refuse to recommend the process to their clients.  To move forward, they try to educate their colleagues and their clients about the benefits of mediation.  Similarly, we spoke to a judge at the municipal court in Zagreb who personally mediates many cases.  She has seen the success of mediation first hand, and hopes that if people can begin to trust judicial mediation, they were have an easier time learning to accept all forms of mediation.  She, as well as the attorneys that we spoke with, emphasized how important it is to understand that mediation isn’t just about the numbers or the practical features of the dispute, but also about the emotions and needs of the parties and how those needs affect what is brought to the table.

In addition to the judge and the lawyers that we met, we also had the opportunity to participate in a non-violent communication training that was taught by a couple from the Netherlands.  This training focused primarily the role that emotions and introspection play in conflict resolution.  Although this training is generally incorporated into the American school system at a young age and seemed almost obvious to me, it was very interesting to see other people work through the training for the first time and learn practical skills for applying it to their lives.

In addition to these legal and mediation-related activities, we had the opportunity to experience some of the best cultural attractions that Zagreb has to offer.  We toured several museums in this city, experienced the vibrant local market, and tasted as much of the local cuisine as we could.  Overall, this internship ended up being an impressive and rewarding mix of cultural and educational opportunities, and I’m so glad that I had the opportunity to participate in the program.

Tatyana Marugg is currently a second year law student at University of Connecticut School of Law.       Ms. Marugg graduated UConn in 2016 with a B.A. in Cognitive Science and Human Rights.

View over Zagreb
This internship fellowship was made possible with generous funding from the Victor Schachter ’64 Rule of Law Award.